BENGALURU: Microsoft has created a tool that lets visually impaired people code faster.
The project dubbed CodeTalk helps such coders navigate faster on screen, offers audio cues for bugs in the program, and helps users locate and skip comments on their document.
“Say, I write 2,000 lines of code a day. Previously, I would not know the mistakes I’ve made until I compile the program,” said Venkatesh Potluri, a visually impaired developer who is a Research Fellow at Microsoft Research.
With CodeTalk every time I make a syntax error there is an immediate audio feedback which helps me go back and check what went wrong. This helps me save a lot of time and be more productive,” Potluri said.
“With CodeTalk every time I make a syntax error there is an immediate audio feedback which helps me go back and check what went wrong. This helps me save a lot of time and be more productive,” Potluri said.
In general, developers have access to a wide range of tools and visual cues that helps them rectify errors and modify their program.
Unlike sighted coders, developers with visual disability need to have a set up of their own environment to assist them in programming.
The most commonly used tool is a screen reader software that reads out all the information that appears on the page.
For instance, a bright red squiggly line indicates an error in the code. While a sighted coder would intuitively know there is a mistake, a visually impaired coder won’t,” said Priyan Vaithilingam, Research Fellow at Microsoft Research. “CodeTalk proactively alerts any errors the visually impaired coder makes and errors don’t accumulate”.
The audio feedback is one among the 10 features built into CodeTalk that helps bridge the accessibility gap for visually impaired coders.
The research project was done over the course of the last 10 months at the Microsoft Research lab in Bengaluru.
In addition to alerting coders, the plug-in helps the coder navigate using simple strokes.
A sighted user tends to scan the content of the program at a glance. But, a visually impaired coder, relying on screen reading software, gets to know the information in the order it appears on the program.
Say a visually impaired developer has an error in the 61st line of the program. The only way to find out is to listen to 60 lines of code to navigate to the point he left,” said Gopal Srinivasa, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research. “In CodeTalk, with one keystroke he can navigate to whichever part of the code he wants.”
Initial tests by the development team of Code-Talk shows that the time taken by a visually impaired coder to write a program has become 5-10 times faster. “In one of our user studies, without CodeTalk we asked a visually impaired coder to write a program which took him 13 minutes. He finished the same task in less than a minute using CodeTalk,” Vaithilingam said.